The recent Crown Street Mall revamp has been criticised for looking like a dull, grey prison yard.
But soon the city strip could be full of whimsical portable rocks, palm tree seats and playful mirrors that make the amphitheatre steps almost disappear.
Wollongong City Council has revealed the first concept designs for the mall’s public art, after councillors voted on Monday to work with New Zealand artist Mike Hewson on the $430,000 project.
The concept drawings also include a new children’s playground fashioned from rocks and trees, a large scale installation reflecting the escarpment and a series of rock platforms and shrubs which can be moved using a forklift.
Speaking to the Mercury from his home in New York, Mr Hewson said he had taken inspiration from the Illawarra’s unique landscape.
“I made a lot of trips to Wollongong, but this was a real challenge because there’s no clear vantage point in the mall,” he said.
“I wanted to try to bring elements of the local landscape in and form an identity, but I also wanted to make them transportable and a little bit humorous.”
He also drew on how the mall looked before its controversial revamp.
”I spent time looking at images of what the mall was like beforehand, because – although there were some problems, there were also some really great parts of it,” Mr Hewson said.
Similarly, the council’s art curator, Barbara Flynn, said she thought Mr Flynn’s ideas would “solve all the problems of the mall”.
“The mall suffered a bit, in the process of being brought into the current day,” she said.
“Now it looks a little vacant, empty and it’s harder for people to find places to congregate and hang out, so I think Mike has reconstituted all those.”
Ms Flynn said she selected Mr Hewson from more than 150 different artists from around the world, as his skills and aesthetic matched perfectly with the mall.
“This will give Wollongong an international art profile, because Mike is that kind of artist,” she said.
“It’s a cliche, but it could put Wollongong on the map, while also being a very accessible and modest artwork.”
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the art works would “be a centrepiece for the city”.
“For a relatively small amount when compared to other cities, we are engaging with an artist with an international profile who can bring the mall alive,” he said.
He emphasised that the concept designs would have to go through several phases before they became a reality, including safety and accessibility checks.
The works are scheduled to be installed in the first half of 2017, the council said.
About the artist
Mike Hewson has worked on projects around the world, in New York’s Central Park, Moscow’s Pushkin Square and various places around Sydney and Melbourne.
He also worked on numerous urban art projects in Christchurch after it was destroyed by earthquakes, transforming old public toilets and dilapidated buildings with large scale printed montages.
With a background in civil engineering, he is currently based in New York, studying at Columbia.
He was hand-picked from a short-list of four artists by the council’s respected art curator, Barbara Flynn who previously worked with Sydney City Council to select its controversial “cloud arch” and giant milk crate art works.
She is also curating the public art at Barangaroo.